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With indelible names like Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor igniting 2020 protests and action, communities across America have advocated for substantive changes for Black life in America. Though far from an end-all-be-all, his bill will bring forth hate crime charges to the vile act of American lynching.
Bobby Rush, the Illinois Democrat who introduced the measure in the House, stated: “Despite more than 200 attempts to outlaw this heinous form of racial terror at the federal level, it has never before been done. Today, we corrected that historic injustice. Next stop: [Joe Biden’s] desk.”
According to the Equal Justice Initiative, over 4,400 African Americans were lynched in the US between the end of Reconstruction, in the 1870s, and the years of the Second World War. Some lynchings and public executions were watched by barbaric White crowds at picnics, and postcards and souvenirs were even sold.
Meanwhile, hate crimes have been on the rise since the pandemic, but for Black Americans, the hate has always been there. On the front of a lynching postcard, the horrifically burnt corpse of Will Stanley was depicted in Temple, Texas, in 1915. Yet the chilling note handwritten on the back was even worse: “This is the barbecue we had last night.”
The Emmett Till Antilynching Act also advocates for the erection of monuments and memorials to lynching victims to begin to “correct our distorted national narrative about this period of racial terror in American history while directly addressing the harms borne by the African American community, particularly survivors who lived through the lynching era.”
Once Biden signs his name, the bill will make lynching a hate crime punishable by up to 30 years in prison. While cliches like “better late than never” or “it’s never too late to do the right thing” may help legislators sleep easier at night, this move is applauded with the same snail’s pace it took to reach this point over 200 failed attempts.